John Ballantyne reviews Prince Caspian, the latest Chronicles of Narnia film.
|Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian|
There was always a risk that the film version of Prince Caspian, the second of C.S. Lewis’s seven Chronicles of Narnia, would fall short of its blockbuster predecessor, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
The underlying structure of the two stories is similar. In both books, the four Pevensie children stumble unexpectedly into the magic kingdom of Narnia, find it under enemy occupation (the White Witch in the first story, the Telmarine conquerors in the second), but eventually, with the help of the Great Lion Aslan and after many epic battles, triumph over the foe.
Prince Caspian‘s producers, however, have avoided making this second film a re-run or paraphrase of the first by cleverly re-ordering C.S. Lewis’s narrative, but without violating it.
The film begins dramatically with the attempted murder of Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), the lawful heir to the throne of Narnia, by his villainous usurping uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), the country’s self-appointed lord protector.
Clearing the path
Miraz’s wife Prunaprismia (Alicia Borrachero) has just given birth to a boy, and now Miraz wants to rid himself of his nephew to clear the path for his son eventually to succeed him.
He dispatches his henchmen to murder Caspian in his bed, but fortunately the prince’s tutor Dr Cornelius (Vincent Grass) has warned his charge of the impending peril.
Caspian escapes from Miraz’s castle on horseback. With his cloak streaming behind him, he gallops across the long drawbridge against a dramatic backdrop of fireworks soaring into the night-sky to mark the birth of Miraz’s son.
The structure, tone and pace of this film are utterly different from those of its predecessor. Unfortunately – and probably unavoidably, given the constraints of cinema – the producers had to skip over Lewis’s accounts of Caspian’s earlier life, in particular, of his old nurse and his tutor Dr Cornelius, both of whom risked their lives to teach him about the Golden Age that flourished in Narnia before the Telmarines invaded and enslaved the land.
Caspian in the film is not the 12-year-old boy, as Lewis originally conceived him in the book. Here he is played by 26-year-old British stage actor Ben Barnes, who underwent months of training in riding and swordsmanship to prepare him for the battle sequences which proliferate in this fast-paced film. Barnes carries off his role brilliantly.
Caspian, after his flight, is hotly pursued by Miraz’s men. The prince seeks out the old Narnians living in hiding – the talking animals, dwarfs and centaurs – and promises to lead them in battle against their occupiers. To which his old tutor Cornelius remarks: “You have the potential to become the greatest contradiction in history – the Telmarine who saved Narnia.”
As so often happens in occupied countries, though, the Narnians are divided in their allegiances. Some of them have never forgotten Narnia’s glorious past: they trust that the great Aslan will one day return and restore justice. Others have ceased to believe and have lost hope. A few are so embittered that they are willing to resort to dark sorcery to drive out the human oppressors.
Caspian, in his hour of dire need, when he is surrounded by enemies on all sides, blows on a magic horn to summon help from beyond the world. At this, the four Pevensie children are swept from a London underground railway platform into Narnia.
Only a year in Earth’s time has passed since their last visit. But, on arriving, they discover that some 1,300 years have passed in Narnia. The Golden Age when they reigned as kings and queens is as remote to Narnians as the time of King Arthur’s Camelot is to us.
Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia are great classics for any age, not just for children. Prince Caspian is especially relevant to our own times. Rather like the Narnians in this story who are living under the cruel Telmarines who try to erase any memory of Narnia’s glorious past, Christians in today’s world are living under the rule of heathens who are rapidly banishing the values and culture which sustained Western civilisation for so long.
When Lucy Pevensey inquires why so many Narnian beasts have lost the power of speech, the dwarf Trumpkin explains: “If you’re treated like a dumb animal long enough you start to act like one.” As for the trees, which have long since gone into a deep sleep, he says they “hid so deep inside themselves they haven’t been heard from since”.
Overall, this film is a masterpiece of cinema – tightly scripted, superbly acted, accompanied by a magnificent music score and featuring the sumptuous landscapes of New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.
The special effects – the talking beasts, centaurs and walking trees – are so believable that the viewer experiences a total immersion experience of Narnia.
Like the Pevensie children at the end of their adventures, we the viewers are dismayed when the enchantment ends and we find ourselves back in the real world.
– Reviewed by John Ballantyne